I recently entered two different poetry competitions on the Internet. Real competitions, with prizes and everything. One called for limericks specifically, while the other was for short poetry of any form, but I entered limericks for both because I like limericks.
Which do you want to hear about first? The one in which I won a prize, or the other one?
Yeah, I thought you would. Nevertheless, I’ll start with the competition I didn’t win, in the hope of maintaining suspense. This took place on Lynne Murphy’s blog, Seperated by a Common Language, and the prize was a copy of a book that Lynne reviewed on the blog about British culture as compared to the American. To enter, you had to write a limerick that illustrates a potential misunderstanding between speakers of British and American English.
I scoured the archives of the blog for ideas, and after some thought decided to write a limerick playing on the two meanings of the verb “table” (as in “table a motion”). In British committee-speak it means to make something available for discussion, whereas in American committee-speak it means to stop making it available for discussion and get on with discussing something else instead.
My submission follows a long tradition of limericks that are deliberately incomplete (i.e. the joke lies in the fact that one or more lines are missing). Here it is:
“This limerick must quickly be written!”
Said the visiting member from Britain.
So in need of more minds
He tabled four lines -
[pause to give it time to sink in]
I didn’t expect to win. Examined closely it doesn’t really work, because tabling is more an action of the committee as a whole, not of an individual member. But it works well enough for a cheap joke. The winning poem was written by Richard English, and is reproduced below:
My girl has a fine pair of hooters
Attractive to gentleman suitors.
But don’t rush too far
They’re both on her car
And she toots them to warn slow commuters.
Now let me tell you about the other competition, which was easier because there were fewer competitors and more than one copy of the prize. Oh, and the prize is something that I’m really looking forward to, namely an uncorrected galley proof of Chad Orzel’s upcoming book, How to Teach Physics to Your Dog. (If you haven’t yet heard of this book, please follow the link and browse for a while. It will give you a bit of context.)
The competition, which took place on Chad’s blog, was to write a short poem about dogs and physics, tying in with the book. There was also a caption competition, which I didn’t enter. The plot thickened after The Digital Cuttlefish entered the competition, which is reminiscent of that bit from Terry Pratchett about how the purpose of the Witch Trials is to find out who comes second after Granny Weatherwax.
In the end, Chad decided to give out two caption prizes and two poetry prizes, and I was one of the winners! (The other, of course, was the Cuttlefish.) Here is my entry:
A dog who seeks morsels organic
Such as bunnies that run when they panic
Must be fast and observing
And strong and deserving
And informed about quantum mechanic.
Speaking of quantum mechanics, this seems an opportune time to share something from my university days. Way back in the year 2000, I took a subject called Advanced Professional English, and previously on this blog I’ve reproduced one of my other assignments from it.
In the assignment that I’m going to share today, I endeavoured to write an article about quantum computers that might be published in a mass market computer magazine, the sort that more typically contains reviews of newly released software. As well as the article itself, I had to write an analysis of the writing process (covering, among other things, how the target audience influences the appropriate style and content). Also included was a copy of the email I got back from a physicist I consulted, and, of course, my references. I won’t reproduce the supplementary materials here, although I’m willing to refer to them in the comments.
Bear in mind that this was written almost a decade ago, and by a humble not-yet-blogger who never studied physics beyond First Year. I haven’t kept up with it at all, but physics has moved on since then. For one thing, the emphasis now seems to be less “how many particles can you entangle?“, and more “how long can you keep them that way?“. Also, a few more catchphrases such as “decoherence” have trickled down to the popular science books.
Comments from physicists are welcome, from assurances that I have nothing to be embarrassed about to interesting information about the developments of the last ten years.
And I’m really looking forward to that book…